How do we talk about differences with our children? A few weeks ago on Martin Luther King Day, we played his speeches throughout the day in our lobby at La Maida. This gave me great pride to be able to honor this man who gave me such hope and inspiration as a child stuggling to find meaning. Growing up, I read book after book about people like MLK; people who risked love and compassion to change the world for the better. I was inspired by these spiritual warriors to fight for love, justice and truth through a life of service. I admired them, and wanted to emulate their path of sacrifice and righteousness for mankind and our planet.
Driving the other night, I had a realization of a perfect way to explain differences to my kids – why there are so many different peoples, religions and points of view in the world – The Tree; each branch and leaf both stands alone but shares the same trunk and roots as the rest. It is both separate and interconnected. We all come from the same source, I can tell them, but have had different experiences and created different stories to guide us – but our yearning for meaning through these stories comes from the same beating heart and life force as the whole.
There is something about a tree’s presence itself that has always soothed me. I can stand and look at trees for hours. There is a quality a tree emanates in its beauty, standing in one place with such steadfastness and grace. One can be sure that the tree is standing there, shaped as it is, having given life it’s full and complete expression with the conditions it’s endured. This is not so different for me than watching a pack of zebras charging to escape a predator – the flow of movement between them and their environment is an embodiment of harmony and grace. They are not bickering about which way is best, they sense each other and their ecosystem, and they act with their all – the well being of one and that of the group being one organism. Optimal competition is cooperation, as is the reverse. In nature these drives are not separate.
I find young people today cringe at the idea of emulating elders in our society. Doing psychotherapy with millennials especially, there is a deep cynicism I find in regard for the integrity of the ‘adults in the room’ and a feeling of helplessness to change anything. I’m rooting for them. I don’t blame them. But where will we go from here? Like trees we are beings born with an essence, full of potential. A seed given the right conditions, we seek completion – to be whole. But as mammals our natural condition is to be in flow with one another. We cannot feel whole if we have come to feel deeply cynical and lost faith in our society. Then what do we give our selves to? Do these problems of faith and meaning in our culture have anything to do with why we are so mentally ill, so medicated, so addicted to substances, and so chronically stressed on the treadmill of stimulation?
What is it when we bring our fullest self to our actions? To embody our true nature is to be authentic, give it our all, in the service of what inspires us in our hearts. Let’s call that spirit. This is my interpretation of what happens, at the neurobiological level when people experience moments of grace. Grace is a flow in our actions – to walk or speak with grace – as well as a word to describe a transcendental state of unfolding love we become enveloped in. When we embody our nature we give our all to something – we are like that pack of zebras striving full force with and for life. We are both humbled by our limitations as we are awed by our raw power when we find that stride, that flow, where life is living through us, and love as ultimate giving moves through you, in service of that which you cherish- the All of life. We are not pushing – exhausting our adrenal glands due to chronic stress – or controlling our emotions – staying stuck in chronic states of grief or fear. Rather we are allowing and surrendering to our most vital and fragile self – of service. This is transcendence.